AMMAN - Selling communications equipment and electronics to military and security firms, Nabila Haddadin is one of a handful of women in her line of work.
After communicating with her clients over the phone for eight months, Haddadin said they were surprised when they met her in person for the first time.
“They were shocked when I arrived. They were expecting a man and couldn’t believe a woman would be in this line of work,” she told The Jordan Times, adding that she is not deterred from continuing in her trade.
Although the Kingdom has worked to narrow its gender gap, according to the recently released World Economic Forum's 2008 Global Gender Gap Index, it remains 109th in economic participation and opportunities, with a male-to-female workforce ratio of 1 to 0.37.
As indicated by the report, female entrepreneurs still face several obstacles entering a sector dominated by men.
“It is certainly not easy,” said Nahreez Natoor, who has been marketing natural cosmetics and herbal remedies for the last eight years.
Her inability to carry large bags and cases of products door-to-door means she is limited to temporary indoor venues such as malls and trade shows to sell her wares.
With her duties as a housewife and mother, Natoor said she often works one month, then takes two to three months off in order to balance family with work.
“Although I like to work, I have responsibilities, so I don’t work every day,” she noted.
In order to encourage young business-minded women to enter the private sector, the Jordan National Commission for Women (JNCW) has lobbied for a "maternity leave fund", which would give women more economic freedom, allowing them job security while starting a family.
JNCW Secretary General Asma Khader recently told The Jordan Times that further legislation is needed to encourage women to stay in the workforce, as most decide to abandon their careers once they start a family.
In order to help women enter the workforce and start their own businesses, the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) and the Jordan Investment Board (JIB) have been working together in entrepreneurs’ development programmes, two-week courses that support aspiring business leaders, particularly women, in starting or expanding their business ventures.
One of the participants, Amal Bader, said that although she struggles at times to gain the respect of male trainees, she doesn’t see inequality in the workplace, but rather at home.
“Working women in Jordan do have more responsibility than men, but if the family is available to assist, there is much more support to make it possible,” the human resource development trainer said.
At graduation earlier this week of 20 women entrepreneurs, including Haddadin, Natoor and Bader, organisers highlighted the importance of supplying training programmes and support in order for entrepreneurs to be aware of available opportunities in the Kingdom.
“Women are looking to establish their own businesses, and often aren’t aware of the organisations and support available. We are trying to aid them with that,” UNIDO head of investment promotion in Amman, Thaer Ghazal, told The Jordan Times.
According to Ghazal, more than 150 trainees have graduated under the initiative which has helped turn 28 business ideas into realities over the last six years through communications, marketing and financing workshops.
The initiative, which will move on to Karak at the end of the month and later Maan, to reach out to both young men and women, has been important in addressing the gender gap, according to JIB finance project coordinator Bashar Al Zu’bi.
“It has been important to target women, as we are starting to see more and more entering the private sector, and so many have great business ideas and need assistance to become successful,” Zu’bi told The Jordan Times.
Haddadin is already seeing a difference.
“With my new communications and marketing skills, my clients will be pleased whether they see a man or woman,” she said.